The Basketball Podcast: EP67 Joe Prunty on NBA Coaching

RELEASE DATE : 06/11/2011

In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Joe Prunty who has served as both an assistant and head coach in the NBA joins us to discuss the big picture of NBA coaching.

For all the NBA championships (three while with the San Antonio Spurs), all the years coaching elite athletes Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, for Joe Prunty, basketball comes down to one simple goal on the court.

“My background is in trying to get stops,” Prunty told USA Today in 2018 after being named the interim head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. “If you can get defensive stops, that’s it.”

He studied under Coach Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, rising to an advance scout and then as an assistant coach for nine seasons. “I tried to learn as much as I could, and that’s where Pop was phenomenal for me and so many of us,” Prunty told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2016. 

For the 2005-06 season, Prunty was off to Dallas for three years, and then Portland, Cleveland, Brooklyn, Milwaukee and, most recently, Phoenix. 

How long has he been around? He went from coaching Jason Kidd in Dallas to working under him with the Nets, filling in when Kidd was unavailable, and then moving with Kidd to the Bucks. When asked why he brought in Prunty, Kidd cited his “work ethic” and that he was “well-respected in this league and I thought he’d be a big part of our staff.” When Kidd was fired, Prunty was the interim coach until the end of the season.

It hardly stops with the NBA for Joe Prunty, though. He was the coach of Great Britain’s national men’s team from 2013-17, and has worked at camps around the world, including Turkey, China and Indonesia.

  • In 22 seasons, Prunty has won three NBA Championships with San Antonio (1999, 2003 and 2005), one NBA Finals appearance with Dallas (2006), four Western Conference Championships (Spurs, Mavericks), and 16 NBA Playoffs appearances.
  • In 2017-18, Prunty had a 21-16 record while serving as the Bucks’ interim head coach and led the team to an NBA playoff appearance.
  • Prunty also served as the interim head coach for 17 games in 2015-16 while Jason Kidd underwent surgery. Bucks went 8-9 and ranked 4th in the East in Offensive Rating during this stretch.
  • Served as the head coach of the Great Britain National Team for five years (2013-17).
  • Appointed interim head coach when Jason Kidd was out for two games with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14.
  • On staff of Gregg Popovich and Avery Johnson when they won Coach of the Year Awards.

Joe Prunty


“Chemistry counts, there’s no question about it . . It doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is best friends and they do everything together . . their ability to coach one another, that’s part of chemistry.”

“Chemistry . . to me is a verb . . it’s something you create, it’s something you do on a daily basis.”

“You start your meetings and you want to make sure you’re focused on a particular task, that you are collaborative in you efforts, and you’re really trying to generate answers to questions or problems.”

“I think the head coach, the big thing is just creating a culture . . making sure not only do they feel they contribute but also they can defend their point . . sometimes the ‘why’ is the most important thing that needs to be heard.”

“In Europe . . we would have teams that had very few plays but multiple options and they were outstanding at making the reads out of them.”

“Once a play breaks down or a defense gives you some type of an option . . the play after the play becomes different because the read is different.”

“We have specifically taught players about where the read is, which player we wanted to cut, how we wanted to make sure the floor was spaced not only before the cut, but after . . if you don’t get some type of harmony within the spacing and the cutting, then it looks like a jumbled mess.”

“When you look at success of international programs, it’s what they’ve done at the grass roots level . . [that] is so important.”

“As your team evolves . . now you want to give them that freedom . . what I’ve seen a little bit of . . it seems like there’s a tendency for more pick and roll to be played, I’m not sure that’s the best thing to do only because there’s so much more to the game.”

“What it means to be a head coach, it means you’re responsible to and for a lot of people . . the job is really trying to develop people, build habits, teach the game . .”

“Being organized is a huge skill to have . . the important part of it is being able to prioritize what it is you’re trying to do . . it helps you focus not only on short term goals, but on long term goals as well.”

“With all the guys that you would deem as ‘unicorns’ or would say that are unique players or special players . . they went out and worked and put in the effort and energy they need to do to make them [the special players] that they are.”

“The pace at which the game is played clearly . . impacts both ends of the floor. Offense impacts defense and defense clearly impacts offense.”

“When you have guys that can do certain things, you want to put them in the best spots to be successful . . usually, your coordinators are guys that have knowledge in that area.”

Joe Prunty Selected Links from the Podcast

San Antonio Spurs 

Patty Mills

Gregg Popovich

Nikola Mirotic

Mirza Teletovic

Rudy Fernandez

Sergio Rodriguez

Portland Trail Blazers

Golden State Warriors

Steph Curry

Klay Thompson

Corey Maggette

Mark Cuban

Shaquille O’Neal

Tim Duncan 

Dirk Nowitzki

Elton Brand

Yao Ming

Kevin Garnett

Amar’e Stoudemire

Joe Johnson

Toronto Raptors

Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie Irving 

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Fred VanVleet

Click below to listen in if you listen on:

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Joe Prunty Breakdown:

1:00 – Factors To Win an NBA Championship
2:30 – Chemistry is Important
5:00 – How to Make a Productive Staff
7:00 – The Right Amount of Discussion
10:00 – Trends that are Coming in the Next Years
13:00 – Actions more than Plays
15:00 – Defensive Mindset
17:00 – Talking about Cutting
20:00 – Influencing Concepts
21:30 – Structure to Unstructured
24:00 – Vision and the Fundamentals
26:30 – Expectations of an NBA Coach
29:30 – Importance of an Organizational List
34:00 – Coaching Unique Players or Unicorns
40:00 – Scouting an Opponent as a Head Coach vs Assistant Coach
43:00 – Self Evaluating their Post Game
46:00 – Defensive Coordinator Position
49:00 – What Changes with Playoff Basketball

Joe Prunty:


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